[MLS SPOTLIGHT] On the penultimate weekend of the MLS regular season the Galaxy beat derby rival Chivas USA, 1-0, to finish unbeaten at home, a great game by Kasey Keller thrilled a home crowd, and all but one playoff spot was claimed. New York, Portland, Chicago, and D.C. United are in the hunt for the 10th and final playoff spot.
SOUNDERS FANS SOUND-OFF IN SEND-OFF. He'll be back to play at least one more game at CenturyLink Field before he walks off the field for the last time, but still a thunderous crowd of more than 64,000, a fabulous game by Kasey Keller, and a dramatic 2-1 comeback victory labeled his last regular season appearance as unforgettable.
He denied goalscorer Chris Wondolowski a second strike by parrying his close-range header, and staved off a furious Earthquakes assault in the 65th minute with a triple-save, the last of which produced a rolling rebound he swatted to safety as Wondolowski barreled in to claim it. He was honored in a special post-game ceremony attended by several USA teammates, including Claudio Reyna and Brian McBride.
“I’m humbled not just for what the club has done for me and given me the opportunity to come home and finish my career back home in something that is just so incredibly special,” said Keller. “You can ask my friends who were able to fly out, guys who’ve played around the world, and they just can’t believe it. They just are so proud of what’s going on here in Seattle and I’m just proud to be a small piece of it.”
Keller, who announced his decision to retire last winter, played 17 seasons in England, Spain and Germany prior to joining Seattle for its inaugural 2009 season.
WONDO CHASES RE-BOOT. Few observers believed 2010 Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski could repeat that feat after leading MLS with 18 goals; after all, he’d scored only 19 in his previous four seasons (2006-09)
He won’t match last season’s remarkable pace even if he does hit a hat trick Saturday in the season finale against Dallas. He scored 18 goals in 28 games last year; so far in 2011, he’s netted fewer goals (15) and played more games (29) in the expanded 34-game MLS schedule.
Still, he’s neck-and-neck with Dwayne De Rosario in the Golden Boot race after placing a perfect finish past Keller in San Jose’s 2-1 loss to the Sounders on Saturday. Thierry Henry, third with 14 goals, will sit out a suspension in the Red Bulls’ season finale. Next is Crew forward Andres Mendoza with 13.
Once again Wondo has been accountable for a large chunk of his team’s goals. This year he’s close to 41 percent (15 of the Quakes’ 36 goals), which is pretty good; last year, he scored an amazing 53 percent of San Jose’s paltry 34 as it qualified for the playoffs and reached the conference finals as the No. 8 seed.
This season could be deemed an equal or greater accomplishment; Wondo’s been the focus of opposing defenses in the wake of his outstanding 2010, and Steven Lenhart, expected to be his regular strike partner after being acquired from Columbus, has played only 14 games (five goals) because of injuries and personal issues.
Wondolowski scored his fifth goal in the last four games at CenturyLink Field. Last year, he set a league mark by scoring 10 straight of his team’s goals. “It’s that time of year,” Wondolowski said to mlssoccer.com. “Goalscorers go through hot spells and cold spells. I’m on a hot one right now.”
De Ro and D.C. have two games remaining, the Quakes have just one, so the odds are against him repeating. Regardless, he’s the only one amongst the leaders to have scored none of his goals from the penalty spot.
LOSERS LOSE OUT. Along with increasing the number of teams from 16 to 18 for 2011, MLS also added two playoff slots for a total of 10. Only one spot remains following a scramble amongst a dozen teams the past few weeks.
Six of seven remaining places have been claimed in the past few days, with stumbles by D.C. United – which blew a 1-0 lead at home to Chicago by conceding two goals in stoppage time – and Portland, a 2-0 loser at home to Houston, greatly hampering their prospects. United has lost four in a row but with two games to play still has a shot; with just one win in their last four games, the Timbers are teetering on the precipice of elimination.
A seven-game winless streak starting in early August doomed Chivas USA. The Red Bulls have won just three of their last 10 and probably need at least a point in their season finale against Philly Thursday to clinch a spot.
Conversely, those teams that have played well in the past month or two are reaping the reward. The Dynamo’s victory over the Timbers clinched a spot and upped their record since the All-Star Game to 6-2-4. The roaring Fire has won four of its last six and though its playoff prospects are still very slim, this remarkable run has kept it alive at least a month after hope appeared lost.
New York, Portland, Chicago, and D.C. United are in the hunt for the 10th and final playoff spot. United is eliminated if it doesn’t beat the Timbers at RFK Wednesday night; Portland is eliminated if it loses.
HOME SWEET HOME. Los Angeles closed out its regular season at Home Depot Center unbeaten by beating Chivas USA, 1-0. The Galaxy (12-0-5) set a record for points accumulated at home (41) in the post-shootout era, albeit in the longest schedule (34) games in league history. In 2000, the first MLS season in which ties were not decided by shootout, the Fire compiled 40 points (13-2-1) at home in 16 games.
The Galaxy is just the third team to complete a season unbeaten at home: San Jose set the standard in 2005 with a 9-0-7 record (32-game schedule), and Real Salt Lake went 11-0-4 (30-game schedule) last year at Rio Tinto Stadium.